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Law School Case Brief

De Funis v. Odegaard - 416 U.S. 312, 94 S. Ct. 1704 (1974)

Rule:

Federal courts are without power to decide questions that cannot affect the rights of litigants in the case before them. The inability of the federal judiciary to review moot cases derives from the requirement of U.S. Const. art. III under which the exercise of judicial power depends upon the existence of a case or controversy.

Facts:

In 1971, the petitioner Marco DeFunis, Jr., applied for admission as a first-year student at the University of Washington Law School, a state-operated institution. The size of the incoming first-year class was to be limited to 150 persons, and the Law School received some 1,600 applications for these 150 places. DeFunis was eventually notified that he had been denied admission. He commenced suit in a Washington state trial court, contending that the procedures and criteria employed by the Law School Admissions Committee invidiously discriminated against him on account of his race in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. DeFunis challenged the constitutionality of the school's admissions policy whereby preferential treatment was extended to applicants from certain minority racial groups, even though such applicants did not rate as high as other, nonminority applicants under the school's evaluation procedures based on testing results and undergraduate grades. The trial court granted the requested relief, and DeFunis was admitted to the Law School. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Washington reversed the trial court's judgment, upholding the constitutionality of the school's admissions policy but by this time DeFunis’ was in his second year at law school. Nevertheless, upon DeFunis’ writ of certiorari, the United States Supreme Court stayed the judgment of the Washington Supreme Court pending final disposition of the case by the United States Supreme Court, and DeFunis remained in school, progressing into the final quarter of his last term when the case was argued on certiorari.

Issue:

Was DeFunis’ case alleging discrimination in admission procedures by University of Washington Law School rendered moot by the fact that DeFunis was in his final year of law school?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The case had been rendered moot. The Court found that the controversy between the parties had clearly ceased to be "definite and concrete" and no longer touched the legal relations of parties having adverse legal interests because DeFunis would have completed his law school studies at the end of the term for which he was registered regardless of any decision the Court reached on the merits of the litigation. The Court found that it could not, consistently with the limitations of U.S. Const. art. III, consider the substantive constitutional issues tendered by the parties.

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